So I was sitting under an umbrella on my blue yoga mat on the concrete and soaked stands watching Liam play lacrosse. This is what mothers do. We sit in the cold rain and wind to watch our kids get blindsided by a high check to the helmet and slammed to the AstroTurf so that they only play five minutes of the 60 minute game. It is reassuring to have the coach call today to check up on Liam who is certain he cracked a rib (I’m still not sure, but he didn’t play again).
Powerless to mother Liam, once he was off the field sitting on a wet bench in the whipping high winds recovering from strep throat and dizziness (I know – ugh!), I took up a chat with the mom to my right. She’s a reading specialist in our local elementary school. Quickly she discovered that I homeschool and run a business that teaches writing. I so appreciated her next question:
“So do you have a philosophy of writing?”
Brilliant! I don’t think anyone in casual conversation has ever asked me that. I dove in: Peter Elbow? Freewriting? Nurturing your writer? Supportive, validating feedback?
No on Elbow, no on freewriting, but yes on nurturing and supportive feedback. Thus a discussion ensued where we compared notes on how to encourage kids to talk, to express thoughts, to get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper. As I explained how freewriting works, a mom two wet bleachers below us, wheeled around to interrupt.
“Excuse me, I couldn’t help over hearing you. Please don’t mind me. It’s just that freewriting changed my son’s life.”
“Oh really,” I replied, excited to hear her “testify”!
“In third grade, my son had a teacher who completely changed my son’s life. Well, his writing life anyway. She taught her students how to write to a timer, how to put their thoughts to paper regardless of how they came out. Suddenly my son who had been a reluctant writer found his voice! He learned to write!”
She went on, as only moms can. She let us know that today, in junior high, when he has an assignment to complete at home and is stumped by it, she only has to say the name of that teacher and the word “freewriting” and suddenly he will check into himself and start writing. She was utterly blown away by how powerful that one practice has been in his life for the last four years.
Needless to say, the reading specialist next to me took note! She followed this testimonial with questions for me, comparing notes on how she might improve her students’ freedom in writing and thinking. I loved her comments that while she spends a lot of time helping kids to “read aloud,” it occurred to her last week that what these kids really needed was someone to talk to about what they were reading. We brainstormed some questions she could ask and how she could encourage better comprehension.
Despite the freezing cold rain, the whole space felt warmer simply from savoring the idea that children are valuable and can be led into greater and greater self-expression through supportive, friendly conversation and, of course, freewriting.
Hi Julie. I gotta know… what’s/who’s Peter Elbow?
As for freewritng we’ve had wonderful experiences here too. My oldest has always been an avid writer but for some reason has reached a stumbling block this year as she writes speeches for her Public Speaking class. I suggested a pure free write session: just put pencil to paper and write whatever comes out… just keep that pencil moving. Four pages later, she had her speech!
My youngest, 7, has recently turned all of her free writes into poetry sessions. No prompting, just her own inspiration. They’re both girls. My middle, a 9 y.o. boy, still doesn’t care to write much but he free writes without much hesitation. Thanks for your blog!
Peter Elbow is the writing expert (professor emeritus) from Amherst who popularized the idea of freewriting in the academy. He’s written a seminal work called Writing with Power which gives his point of view about how the writing process occurs in people and he gives special attention to academic writing.
I remember reading him for the first time when I was a freelance writer and writing these kinds of notes in the margins: But that’s what I do! Yes, that’s exactly how I write. I’ve always done… x, y, z.
I hadn’t realized that my process could be understood in more universal trends.
So that’s why Peter Elbow will always have a place of honor in my world of writing. Several years ago, I sent Dr. Elbow my Writer’s Jungle as a thank you for his influence on a community he knew little about (homeschoolers) and he wrote back to me a really warm note and then invited me to hear him speak locally. I did and we had a great chat. Truly a moment for me.
Freewriting changed my daughter’s writing life too. She told me this week that freewriting is what taught her that she COULD write; that the words didn’t have to be perfect, she could edit later. I had been trying to teach her that for years. Freewriting is also what interested her in poetry as that’s what she wrote during one freewriting period when she couldn’t think of anything else. She now writes daily, for fun, and has recently started a blog where she actually links one of her buttons to Brave Writer because your freewriting ideas had such an influence on her. (I believe you’re the spiral notebook in the middle of the sidebar.) In addition she earned an entire high school credit in poetry, designing the whole study herself after becoming inspired that day during the freewrite. And this is the child who HATED freewriting the first time we tried it! You should really stop by her blog and see the fruits of your labors.